This untrammeled realm of western Quebec centers on a rustic gold-rush town founded in 1935 after gold was discovered in the area. It might not look like much at first glance, with its weather-worn main street, but Val-d’Or—meaning “valley of gold”—is a jewel in the rough. You can visit a historic gold mine, but also learn about local indigenous life and culture, meet some Northwoods wildlife, and, in the surrounding boreal wilderness, enjoy some of the world’s most refreshing four-season outdoors. This is a destination that encourages relaxing, breathing fresh air, and learning a bit about different cultures.
What to See and Do
There aren’t a huge number of established sites to visit, but you’ll discover a couple of outstanding ones, providing insight into local life and culture. After, you have a great four-season wilderness awaiting, for hiking, cycling, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more.
- La Cité de l’Or: You’ll have to put on miners’ overalls, a helmet, and lamp to visit the historic Lamaque Gold Mine, which operated from 1935 to 1985. Descending 300 feet into the underground darkness, you’ll explore the essay laboratory, the shaft, and the hoist room. An above-ground interpretive center covers regional mining history. Nearby, the Village Minier de Bourlamaque is a restored miner’s village with 60 log miner houses, now private homes. There’s an audio guide to enhance visits with short stories by old and new residents, and one house is open to the public with an interactive historical exhibition.
- Refuge Pageau: A pathway winds through this pine-shaded enclave in nearby Amos, past cages and pens housing recuperating Northwoods animals: moose, wolves, coyotes, beavers, black bears, several species of birds of prey, and more. “Wolf whisperer” Michel Pageau and his wife, Louise, founded the refuge in 1986. He was a trapper whose heart turned as he got to know the animals, and decided to help them instead of killing them. The refuge’s goal is to release the animals back into the wild as soon as possible—though there are many permanent residents that have suffered irreversible damage at the hands of humans and will stay here permanently. Be sure to request an interpretation guide who will tell you the stories behind each animal. And don’t miss Chewbaka, the cuddliest porcupine you’ve ever met, and Le Facteur, a show-off crow that makes different sounds to impress.
- Kinawit: Perched on the banks of Lac Lemoine, this educational and cultural center provides insight into the Algonquin territory, where First Peoples have lived for centuries. Activities include storytelling, medicinal plant gathering, bannock making, cooking over an open hearth, and guided hikes. Built to sway stereotypes, it’s also a place for healing, as local youths are trained and employed, giving them an opportunity to reconnect with their culture. You can stay in one of the rustic cabins or in a tipi.
- Centre d’Exposition VOART: If you’re looking for local artwork, this is the place to come. Travel shows and exhibits of local (and non-local) artists are part of a full slate of activities, including educational seminars, workshops, and guided visits.
- Outdoor Adventures: The outdoorsy life reigns in this wilderness realm, whether you’re into hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, fishing, hunting—or, come winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog sledding, or snowmobiling. Contact the tourism office for more info.
- Recreative Forest of Val-d’Or: Run, walk, cycle, or berry pick at this expansive forest park. In winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, skating, and walking prevail on its network of trails.
The Best Time to Visit
If you’re into wintry sports—cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating—winter is a popular time to visit this northern destination. Heavy snows can cover the landscape from November to April. But to enjoy its sites, summer is better, with day-time temps averaging 75 degrees F (24 degrees C).
Festivals and Events
Among the summer festivals that take place every year are a storytelling festival in June; a popular humor festival in July; and a blues festival in mid-June to mid-July. The Tour de l’Abitibi is an international bicycle stage race, held since 1969.
Where to Stay
This is not a touristy destination, so you won’t find flashy hotels. That said, Val-d’Or’s hotels provide plenty of comfort for a good night’s sleep.
- Hôtel Continental: The only downtown hotel, the Continental offers a full hot breakfast and easy access to the town’s restaurants, shops, and major sites. An on-site restaurant serves basic fare.
- L’Escale Hôtel Suites: Clean and spacious rooms, continental breakfast, and an on-site restaurant make for a pleasant stay.
- Hôtel Forestel: The region’s largest hotel, Forestel offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and facilities for both business and tourist travelers.
Where to Eat
Again, this is not a touristy destination, so you won’t find tons of restaurants. Instead, these cater to the locals. Note that the region’s water has been judged among the purest in the world, meaning the beer—and kombucha—is divine.
- Balthazar Café: Part cafe, bakery, and deli, this cozy restaurant on Val-d’Or’s main street is the go-to for homemade sandwiches, soups, salads, and sweets. Think about picking up picnic fare here—or lingering over a cup of coffee.
- Microbrasserie Le Prospecteur: This lively micro-brasserie in the heart of downtown Val-d’Or serves up regional craft beers and local cuisine, the local kombucha is also worth a taste. The rooftop terrace in summer is sublime.
- Acetaria “Green” Kitchen: Healthy salads and soups are the pillars of this locally-sourced restaurant, which aims to serve greens while being environmentally “green.”
Air Canada and Air Creebec fly from Montreal (YUL) to Val-d’Or (YVO); the flight takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes and round-trip tickets generally run US$300 to $600. Autobus Maheux operates a bus between Montreal and Val-d’Or several times a day; tickets generally cost $150, and the trip takes about 7 and a half hours. Or, you can drive 325 miles from Montreal, which takes about 6 hours.